In Kannada the word for embroidery is Kasuti. As with the chikan of Lucknow so with the Kasuti of Karnataka the word has become identified with the particular type of embroidery produced in that area. The best work is produced in the areas once ruled by the great Chalukya and Vijayanagar empires stressing the need for patronage for the achievement of excellence in the arts.
In Karnataka, the Kasuti embroidery work has traditionally been and still is done entirely by women. The embroidery was done on sarees, cholis and children’s clothes and was essentially a home craft. It is interesting to note that many of the original Kasuti embroidery designs were reproduced on woven materials especially for making cholis and were known as Ilkal Khanns, Ilkali being a place near Bijapur and the Khanns the brocaded fabrics woven in the area.
The women of Karnataka turned for design to their own surroundings and chose the ones that appealed to their religious, artistic or domestic instincts. The religious motifs are the gopurams of temples, the chariot and palanquin in which the deity is carried on ceremonial occasions, the lotus, the tuisi katti which is the enclosure for the sacred tulsi plant. Elephants with howdahs, peacocks with spread plumage, birds of different kinds, animals and flowers are standard motifs. The cradle, anklet-bells, palanquins and other articles of everyday use are artistically depicted.
The material on which the embroidery is executed is a hand woven cloth of dark colour, usually black. The sarees, known as Ilkal sarees, have a wide silk pallu and border, the main fabric being thick soft cotton. The largest and most closely spaced motifs are placed near the pallu. As the embroiderer moves towards the main part of the saree the motifs become smaller and more scattered until they fade away gracefully with clusters of stars or mere dots.
The most frequently used colors are red, purple, green, orange and crimson. Patterns in only one or two colors are extremely rare and the usual colour combinations are orange, green and crimson or purple, green, orange and red, the brighter shades of these being preferred.
The Kasuti embroidery is done in silk which, earlier, was unpicked from the tassels pendant from the pallu. Later it came to be obtained commercially. The basic embroidery stitches used in Kasuti work are the back stitch, running stitch, cross stitch and zig-zag running stitch. In certain work the overall effect is of a woven design rather than of embroidery. Kasuti stitches are horizontal, vertical or diagonal. These are used going in one direction, the design being completed on the return journey by filling in the blank portions in the running stitch.
The kasuti worker uses no help such as drawing out threads or tracing the motifs to help set the pattern. The Kausti pattern is in the mind and is built up with just the needle moving in different directions, In Coorg the basic stitches used are cross and double running stitches. The basic design is done in cross stitch but the static quality of cross stitch is relieved by working the projections in running stitch. Here also the motifs combine religion, nature and articles of daily use.